A New Home for Science and Engineering

October 07, 2010

State-of-the-art facility key to attracting students and doing advanced research.

The George Washington University has not invested in a new engineering building in more than 50 years.

Lab and appropriate classroom space are limited and out of date, and science and engineering facilities and faculty are spread across multiple locations.

That’s why many faculty members say it’s time for GW to invest in a new science and engineering complex.

“Our facilities work against us. It makes doing certain kinds of research harder and some kinds of research even impossible,” says Randall Packer, associate dean for special projects and professor of biology at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Faculty input has been a key part of planning for the proposed new science and engineering complex. Faculty members have been participating in building planning and benchmarking for the last year, culminating in the proposed design that will be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval this month. Faculty and administration leaders have also been engaged in discussions and deliberation around operating and financing plans for the complex to ensure faculty questions are addressed.

The eight-story building would nearly double the amount of space currently available at GW for science and engineering. The complex would include approximately 400,000 square feet above grade and yield 290,000 square feet of assignable space for teaching and research laboratories for faculty and students in GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Can Korman, SEAS associate dean for research and graduate studies and a professor of engineering and applied science says the new facility will improve the university’s ability to recruit top-tier students and faculty.

“If we get a new facility, there’s no limit to who we can recruit,” he says.

A typical floor in the new complex would include research and teaching areas as well as breakout spaces. The School of Medicine and Health Sciences and research collaborators throughout the university would also be involved in research in the building.

“I think it’s going to have a transformative effect on the university,” says Dr. Packer. “When you’re recruiting faculty and students, appearance matters along with substance. The new building will definitely be a selling point.”

The building, which is slated to be located on the site of the University Parking Garage, would also feature two levels of below-ground program space, 300 to 400 underground parking spaces on four levels and a retail venue on the ground floor along Eye Street.

Kim Roddis, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in SEAS, says she’s most looking forward to having a learning environment for students and faculty where they can work together on teaching and research.

“I think this will allow GW to offer its students a 21st-century quality education,” says Dr. Roddis. “It’s a capital investment that GW has needed for decades and will be enormously beneficial to the university.”

Much of the building is planned to be dedicated to research labs, which will expand GW’s opportunity to compete for federally funded grants as well as enhance opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research.

“An undergraduate research experience is what turns students on to engineering because you don’t really know what engineering is until you actually do it,” says Dr. Korman.

But this won’t just be a benefit for engineering and science faculty and students. Because engineering and science faculty will be moving out of their existing buildings, more space will be available for other disciplines.

The Board of Trustees is expected to vote on the project, which is estimated to cost approximately $275 million, at its board meeting next week.

“If we want to be a top-ranked university, we have to have strong science,” says Dr. Packer.

SEAS Dean David Dolling says technology is becoming a key component in growing our economy and maintaining our pre-eminence in the world.

“Having a strong, vibrant engineering program at GW will position GW as the engineering and science hub in the heart of the nation’s capital, allow us to attract the best and brightest students and faculty and help GW grow into a top tier comprehensive institution,” he says.

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